While I was growing up, I’d always thought of Lagosians to be this bunch of super-crazed people living in this super-crazy city, all in a super-crazosphere of their own. It was a notion that couldn’t be helped, seeing as I attended a boarding school where the Lagosian students made up this fast-talking, loud-mouthed, crass-mannered bunch. They projected an image in my mind of a place where there’s so much hustle and bustle, day and night, and no rest for the wicked . . . wait, sorry, I meant to say, no rest for the dwellers.
So you can imagine my shock when I visited Lagos for the first time and found that while places like Oshodi and Ojuelegba and Orile and Ikeja Underbridge, places famed for their characteristic chaos, existed, there were other places like Lekki and Victoria Island and the suburbs of Ikeja, where there aren’t bodies jostling one another and car horns honking madly and irritated pedestrians heckling daredevil drivers.
As in, LIKE SERIOUSLY?!
There were actual places that had PEACE AND QUIET?!
I’d been deceived! HELL NO! This was a gross injustice on my imagination! Someone had to be held accountable. This is lawsuit material! I have to sue!!! Lagos has to be a madhouse through and through, no two ways about it! If that is not so, then I have to sue somebody, goddamnit!
And so, my lawsuit is currently pending. Evidence is being gathered, and my lawyers are looking to turn it into a class action suit.
In the meantime, life moved on.
Several days ago, I stepped out of my workplace environs. It was early evening, the afternoon sun was in its final blaze of glory, and the atmosphere was hot enough to make me anxious to get home to a cool bath.
So I was at the bus stop, waiting for the bus that would take me on the first leg of my two-drop journey home. This taxi pulled up at the junction. I recognized the driver; he plied the airport route regularly. He is this squatly-built man, stocky, short, advanced in years, with a midriff that had spread out into a generous paunch. There were four passengers in his cab – one in front and three behind. And he seemed to be embroiled in a spat with the passenger seated behind, by the door, on the other end of the vehicle from him.
Whatever the reason for their dispute was was unknown to me, but it apparently escalated to the point where the driver reached a meaty hand forward to point at the door, heatedly conveying to the passenger his desire for him to leave his cab. The passenger, a younger man, dark-skinned and skinny, with the features that pegged him as a Northerner, was obviously irritated with the driver and slapped at the hand he was waving about in front of him.
The driver retaliated by shoving the man with the hand on his shoulder. The passenger shoved back. The driver shoved back. The shoving became too constrained by the confines of the taxi. So the driver flung open his door and bounced out. The passenger slammed out of the car too.
The two heavy-weight champions met somewhere in front of the car, and promptly went at it. The driver (let’s just call him Baba) had the advantage of being burlier. He went straight for the other man’s legs, lifting him and tipping him forward. The momentum of the lift brought both men down to the ground. Baba was still on top. Their fists were flying, ineffectually glancing off each other’s faces and torso. But the passenger was younger and wiry, and somehow managed to maneuver himself out from beneath the driver. Then he struggled to his feet. Baba was doing the same, but the passenger was quicker. He regained his balance, and pushed Baba back to the ground. The driver fell back and started up again. The passenger pushed him back down and added a few kicks for good measure.
And then he didn’t stop. He went in – HARD! His fists pumped up and down like pistons. And his feet shot forward, again and again. The driver was helpless under the onslaught of his youthful aggression.
For a few moments, passersby stood there, transfixed, staring open-mouthed at the fight, taking in the sheer brutality of the beating the driver was taking from the younger man. As in, the man was really – BEATING – HIM – UP!
Then those few moments passed, and some men – all these airport taxi operators who hang around and wait to pounce on travelers who stroll out of the airport premises with their luggage – rushed forward to the fighting men. Actually, there were four of them, and one of them was a Nigerian version of the Philistine Goliath. Tall. Hunky. And with the kind of brawny hands that, at a swipe, sent the Northerner flying away from Baba.
But, omo! This little man no gree o! He bounced forward, his concentration on Baba, ready to get on with his business of beating him to death. Goliath shoved him away again. He turned to his new opponent, looking unintimidated by his bulk, every inch the David ready to take down the enemy. Except there was no catapult. No stones. And no Voice from Heaven assuring him of victory.
So he was pretty much on his own. Literally. Because the small crowd that had been drawn to the altercation were cheering Goliath on.
“Beat him! Beat am well-well . . .!”
“Wicked man! You no see as him take dey beat that driver . . .!”
“That’s how all these Hausa people are – wicked! Mscheewww. . .!”
“Him for kill that Baba o! No respect at all . . .!”
Men and women. Young and elderly. Some wearing casual outfits and others clad in the work clothes f sedentary workers. Every one of them talking and shouting at once. A fist raised here, a malicious clap of hands there.
I smiled as I flagged down a bus hurtling past. My faith in the madness of Lagos was getting restored. Now that my reassurance was guaranteed, it was time to get home and take that cool bath. No time, especially not to find out if anyone was going to beat anyone else to death. However, those raised voices, the stir of anger and righteous indignation – they resonated in the late afternoon atmosphere for several metres until the din faded away in the distance the bus driver covered as he drove on toward my bus stop.